Will the real Daniel Bard please stand up?
Is it the Daniel Bard who:
- Blew a ninth-inning save at Syracuse on June 20 when he threw two wild pitches that allowed two runs to score and enabled the Chiefs to tie the game at 5-5,
- Walked three batters to force in two runs with the bases loaded and threw a wild pitch on June 24 against Louisville, and
- Entered the fifth inning of a 1-1 game at Rochester on June 24 and faced four batters without recording an out? He served up a two-run double and threw two wild pitches that allowed two runs to score.
Or is it the Daniel Bard who:
- Pitched two scoreless innings, replete with two hits, zero walks and two strikeouts at Buffalo on June 17,
- Retired the side in order on 12 pitches on July 8 versus Syracuse, and
- Tossed a scoreless inning against Buffalo on July 15?
“Right now, he’s not consistent,” said Pawtucket Red Sox pitching coach Rich Sauveur of the 26-year-old right-hander who Boston tried to convert from a late-inning reliever to a starter. “But I’m seeing signs of what we’re looking for. He just needs to bring that from the bullpen to the mound and have that conviction on the first hitter he faces.
“It seems like when he gets in a little trouble, it’s like he tightens the belt and is much better.”
Bard certainly was better last season when he served as the set-up man for the since-departed Jonathan Papelbon.
Among other things, he set an American League and franchise record with 34 holds and allowed just 14.7 percent (5-of-34) of inherited runners to score which ranked fourth among American League qualifiers.
But come the 2012 season, Boston converted him to a starter with disastrous results.
In 16 games, Bard was 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA, 52 hits allowed in 55 innings replete with 37 walks and only 34 strikeouts.
“I think we came into spring training and thought ‘Okay, how do we need to change everything I do to fit the starting role?’” recalled Bard, who was optioned to Pawtucket on June 7. “I don’t think we needed to change as much as we thought we did.
“We tweaked a lot of things mechanically while trying to simplify me … trying to get the best windup that I would be comfortable with. We probably did a little too much. You can’t think and pitch at the same time. I think that’s the key to it.”
After making one token start with Pawtucket, Bard has worked exclusively in relief.
Through games of July 19, he was 2-0 with a 7.85 ERA (as recently as July 6 it was 8.78) in 18 games with 20 hits allowed, 15 walks and 20 whiffs in 16 1/3 innings.
“No matter if I was in a bullpen session or in a game, it just wasn’t the same as it used to be,” Bard said of his conversion to a starter. “I think that translates mentally in that it’s hard to trust your stuff. When I was throwing 98 out of the bullpen, and (after he became a starter) and then my best fastball when I was reaching back was 92 or 93, there’s something wrong with that.
“For me, I think it started with changing my mechanics. The velocity went down a little bit. The command wasn’t what it was. Who knows what my velocity will settle in at once we get all of this figured out? I think it’s a matter of finding a delivery and getting comfortable.”
In Bard’s opinion, he’s in the process of doing that now that he’s getting work on a consistent basis out of the bullpen.
“In a lot of ways I feel more comfortable,” he said. “I’ve been trying to re-discover that routine I used the last few years. I feel that I remember something new every day, something little whether it’s before the game or something I do warming up before I go in.
“The biggest thing is the comfort level. I think on the mound, the adrenaline and the extra surge you get when you come into a high-pressure situation, is when I think I’m at my best. The more we can re-create that down here the better.”
But in order for Bard to turn the clock back to 2011, he must establish his command.
“I’m talking about command being an issue,” said Sauveur. “The other night (July 16 versus Syracuse), he walks the first hitter and gives up a two-run homer. The next guy he’s 0-and-2 and then throws a slider for a base hit. Then, he gets the next three guys out. He strikes out one guy and gets the next two on weak groundballs to first base. It’s just a matter of him preparing himself and being ready so that when the gate opens, he comes into the game and mentally focuses on that first hitter – and not when he gets in trouble.
“You have to work hard,” continued Sauveur. “That happens with a lot of ball players. He’s working very hard at fixing this issue. I think he’s going to do it. I think he’s going to accomplish this.”
In order to “accomplish this,” Bard must continue to improve on his mechanics – especially finding the right arm slot.
“That’s been one of the mechanical things we’ve been trying to iron out, finding that arm slot that’s worked for me in the past and that I’m comfortable throwing from,” he said. “I think I’ve had it down at times in the past couple of weeks. But I’ve gotten away from it on some pitches in a couple of outings. That’s probably where I’ve run into trouble.
“The biggest thing is finding that happy medium I can go back to where I know I’m comfortable so I’m not constantly making adjustments. I’ve had that at times. Now, it’s a matter of consistency.”
In nothing else, that’s what irks Bard – his inability to be consistent.
“That’s been the one thing that’s eluded me up to this point,” he said. “It’s something I prided myself on in the past – being one of the most consistent guys on that team in Boston. I think I was for a long time.
“The ability’s here. The work ethic’s there. I’m going to put in everything I have to do in order to make it happen. I trust that in time, things will work out like they’re supposed to.”
“Time” is the operative word in that statement according to Sauveur.
“This is not an overnight process,” he said. “Everybody needs to understand that. It could take two weeks or three weeks. It could take a month or two months. Everybody needs to be patient and sit back because we’re going to fix this thing.
“I’m a big believer in the mental part of the game. I’m very positive with him and he needs to be positive with himself. He believes in himself and that’s the first step. He needs to believe in himself and go on from there.”
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